Out of the blue I got a call from my gym the other week. It was weird not only because the call was from my gym but also because the woman said she was calling to schedule a free massage. As soon as I answered the phone the woman launched in with, “I’m calling to schedule your complimentary consultation and massage. When would be a good time for you this week?” Just like that without any introduction or preamble or explanation.
I was caught off guard and stumbled around before muttering, “Oh, um, Friday?”
I didn’t know what the consultation was for (she didn’t say), and I didn’t know they even offered massages at my gym.
“Where do I go? Where are the massage rooms?”
“Back by the tanning beds,” she said.
I didn’t know they had tanning beds either. I’ve been going to this gym for well over a year, and the last time I worked out I checked around for signs for tanning beds and massages. There were none.
I wondered if I was being punked and whether I should go, but it was a free massage.
Why are they randomly calling people out of nowhere and offering this service no one knows about, I wondered. Who gives free massages? And to what will I have to agree to get it? I had so many questions to which I had no answers.
As the day approached, I grew more nervous. So I did what anyone would under these circumstances. I turned to Facebook. When I asked the people what I should do, the decision was unanimous: I should go. So I did, but it was even stranger than you think. It was stranger than I thought, and I thought it would be pretty dang strange.
When I arrive, I get sent back behind the long check-in counter/smoothie bar, down a short hall to a tiny counter where the receptionist has her back to me. From where I’m standing at the counter I can see she is on her phone. I have to interrupt her to tell her I’m here for my appointment. She swivels around in her office chair and has me sign in on a sheet, which strangely says “patient sign-in.” Am I a patient? The sheet has zero other names on it. Apparently, I’m the only person who has been here all day. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Then she hands me a form to fill out, which asks me all sorts of questions like where do I experience pain, how long have I had the pain, does the pain come and go, can I describe the pain? But I don’t have any pain. I wanted to say, “You called me. Remember?”
I leave most of the sheet blank. When I hand it back, the receptionist has me come behind the counter, and I have to squeeze by because there’s another woman sitting in a chair smooshed in the corner behind the receptionist, and the space is tight. When I’d arrived I’d assumed this was the masseuse, but she doesn’t get up, doesn’t greet me, doesn’t move, and I wonder, Is she just hanging out? I skirt around her to one of two tiny, walk-in-closet size rooms behind the counter where a large, bearded man is waiting for me. If I wasn’t nervous before, I am now because I’ve never had a male masseuse before, and I’m not sure I want one. Actually, I know I don’t. I wonder if I will have to get naked in front of this man.
But the room isn’t set up like a spa. It has bare white walls with bright, florescent lighting and the only things in it are a low table like the kind in a chiropractic office and a minuscule desk built into the corner of the room. There’s no place to put my purse so I wedge it in next to the computer on the desk and sit on the green chiropractic table.
The guy leans against the opposite wall, which in the narrow room is about two feet away from me, and starts talking fast about doing an assessment before my free massage. I don’t know what the assessment is for or what’s going on exactly, but it’s clear this guy is some sort of chiropractor (Licensed? Unlicensed?) or chiropractor wanna-be. As he speaks – asking about any pain I’m in, my workout routine, if I stretch before exercising – he liberally works in the words free massage to about every other sentence. Then he says, “When you come back for your next visit…” and I don’t hear anything after that.
So that’s what this was about. It was about tricking people into signing up for chiropractor services for no apparent reason other than this guy was trying to drum up business for his start-up chiropractic office in the tiny space office in Retro Fitness. I’d known there would be a catch. I’m not that dumb. But I thought the consultation would have to do with selling the gym’s personal training services or the benefits of massage after a workout or something along the lines of fitness, all of which I was open to. Roping people into chiropractic services when they’re not even seeking treatment sounds kind of backwards if you ask me.
“Why would there be another visit?” I ask. I don’t even want this visit. He talks even faster, and I see sweat beading across his forehead. He says we can discuss it further after the free massage, which is in fact with the woman sitting outside in the corner. I’m relieved about that. But first he wants me to lie back, which I do, so he can perform the assessment. He moves my legs around, tells me I’m a little stiff, and then mentions we can work on that at my next appointment.
I tell him I’m not agreeing to anything, and he throws in another free massage at the next visit, making the whole thing even weirder than it already was, which was pretty weird. He hands me off to the female masseuse who leads me into the other tiny room, which is similar to the last tiny room only with a massage table and a sink. The masseuse is nice and not pressuring me and things get normal for a while only the woman talks to me the whole time so I can’t enjoy my free massage, and I’m still worried about how the hell I’m going to get out of there while avoiding the chiropractor. Are they going to lock me in the room until I agree to another appointment? Is the chiropractor’s large frame going to be looming in the doorway as soon as I open the massage room door? Will they all grab onto my forearms and not allow me to leave until I agree to chiropractic services?
The free massage is only for a portion of my body, my lower back, and lasts for about 15 minutes. I can’t say it was relaxing exactly. When it’s over the masseuse leaves so I can put my shirt back on, and before I grip the door handle I brace myself for a confrontation with the chiropractor. Surprisingly, he’s not waiting for me on the other side, and I scoot around the receptionist’s desk, eager to get out of there. Before I make it too far the receptionist stops me and asks when I’d like to schedule my next appointment. I say I won’t be coming back, and she says, “O.K.” That was it. I was free to go.
As I left I wondered if this scheme ever works. It seemed like an awfully backward way of going about things. But before I give it any more thought, I break into a run, fearing the chiropractor will come chasing after me to force me to sign-up for his illegitimate practice before I can make it to my car. When I reach my Jeep I turn around and see he is not behind me. I hop into my car and drive off, knowing a free massage is never free.
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